A third of smoking households in England are living in poverty with rates highest in the North

10 February 2022
2 min read

New analysis of national data commissioned by charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) finds that the proportion of smokers living in poverty is highest in the north and midlands.

The new breakdown [1] published recently shows that in England, 31 per cent of households containing smokers live in poverty, once spend on smoking is taken into account. Rates are highest in the North East, where 42 per cent of households containing smokers live in poverty, whilst London is lowest at 17 per cent – but this still equates to over 80,000 households in the capital.

The link between smoking and disadvantage is well established, but this new analysis highlights how the impact of smoking on local communities is compounded in regions where household incomes are also lower. The average gross disposable household income per head in the North East is only £17,096, whilst in London it is £30,256.[2]


Rate of poverty among smoking households

Number of smoking households in poverty




North East



North West



West Midlands



Yorkshire and The Humber



East Midlands



South West



South East



East of England






Households where people smoke are poorer because of an addiction which usually started in childhood. Two thirds of adult smokers started before they reached 18,[3] and most of them go on to become regular adult smokers.[4] Smoking is highly addictive and on average it takes thirty attempts before a smoker successfully stops for good. [5] |People living with social and economic hardship tend to be more addicted, and find it harder to quit, although they try just as often.[6]

The findings also showed:

  • The average smoker is spending just under £2,000 a year on tobacco costing England smokers a total of £12 billion [7]
  • When net income and smoking expenditure is taken into account, 16m, or 31 per cent, of households with a smoker fall below the poverty line. The residents of these houses include around 2.2 million adults below pension age, around 400,000 pension age adults and around one million dependent children. [8]
  • Smokers’ employment chances and average earnings are also damaged by smoking creating further hardship for people, especially those who have to give up working due to smoking-related ill health. In England 252,138 people are economically inactive due to smoking and smokers earn eight per cent less than non-smokers. [9]
  • Current smokers are five times more likely to require social care support at home and need care on average 10 years earlier than non-smokers [10], accounting for eight per cent of local authority spending on adult social care.

Maggie Throup, public health minister, said, “Smoking has a disproportionate impact on poorer communities across the country and we’re absolutely determined to hit our ambition for England to be smoke free by 2030.

“We have launched an independent review of our smoking policy, led by Javed Khan, and will publish a new plan later this year setting out how we will tackle health inequalities and level up the country.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said, “Smoking is the single largest driver of health inequalities in England and it is shocking that it’s contributing to more than two million adults living in poverty, concentrated in the most disadvantaged regions in the country.

“Behind every statistic is a human being. A real person, threatened by the debilitating health effects of smoking, and significantly poorer because of an addiction that started in childhood.

“We look forward to the forthcoming Tobacco Control Plan to achieve the government’s smokefree 2030 ambition. This will play a key role in delivering the 2030 targets to narrow the gap in life expectancy, wellbeing and productivity between the top performing and other areas set out in the Levelling Up White Paper.”